“Blood Brothers” offers in-depth interviews, rich archival photos, and footage from newsreels. He also stands out for a short time studying two iconic, uncompromising characters who befriend (the film convincingly claims).
Director Marcus A. Clark used “The Blood Brothers: Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith” as the touchstone for this documentary – available on Netflix – and brought his knowledge of blackwork in America.
The results are discreet, resonant, often touching.
The duo, predicted by “One Night in Miami,” is nearing the end of their deep relationship as they celebrate Cassius Clay’s 1964 victory over Sonny Liston in a title fight. Even though Malcolm X was 16 years his senior, he had something in common.
Everyone is curious. Everyone faces white racism without gloves. Both are verbal stylists. Ali became a military poet. Malcolm X lit the fire with his rhetoric and spiritual vision rooted in Marcus Garvey’s Pan-Africanism and developing in Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam.
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“Blood Brothers” recounts the famous events that brought Malcolm Little to an Islamic state. He also recounts a cultural and personal moment – the murder of Emmett Till as one – that caused a teenager in Louisville, Kentucky, to question white supremacy.
A friend and business manager, Gene Kilroy, told of an angry apparition that Ali saw while visiting a white church where parishioners sang the same hymn that his southern Baptist family sings every Sunday. The same song, but the white priest told him to leave.
Despite the presence of white racism, The Blood Brothers is most revealing in its depiction of a complex friendship that revolves around power and trust. This film does not question the sincerity of the bond between the two.
Two photos with lots of fun are striking: One shows Ali with Malcolm, his wife Betty Shabaz and their little daughter. Ali just shines. This film convincingly shows how fragile this relationship is, in the face of their faith, in the face of Ali’s rise in the nation and state.
In the early clip, Ali reads a statement about Jesus and Judas that mentions what he sees as Malcolm X’s betrayal of Elijah Muhammad. For the record, that quote comes years after Malcolm’s murder.
The cultural significance of Ali and Malcolm X is still being analyzed and perhaps readjusted.
Blood Brothers highlights the changing demands on leaders. They can be attached like butterflies to any ideology that resonates with those that have inspired them. There is Ali, who is challenging. It was Ali who was sick. There are Brandmalcolm X and reflective Malcolm X.
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A dissertation can be written about how their daughters preserve the legacy of Ali and Malcolm X. The film opens with Ilyasa Shabaz, who claims that his father’s meeting with Cassius Clay was destined. Writer Hannah Ali shares towards the end of the film that one of her father’s biggest regrets, Malcolm X, has turned away from her. Other informants were Professor Todd Boyd from Southern California, scientist Cornell West and Marcus Garvey’s son, Dr.
Reverend Al Sharpton offers one of the most enlightening descriptions of Malcolm X’s influence at the time: “Martin Luther King Jr. talks about who we should be with. Malcolm talks to us about who we are and who got us there. Among the most touching interviews is the interview with Rahman Ali. Ali made a poignant claim against his older brother. “I am really proud to say that I am Mohammed Ali’s only brother”. He says as we watched him, direct passersby to his brother’s grave.
In the most shocking sequence in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X:
The camera follows Malcolm at the start of his murder at the Audubon Ballroom in Haarlem. Malcolm von Denzel Washington seems to be the loneliest person in the world. “Blood Brothers” underscores how interesting this image is.
Yes, he has unlimited support from Betty Shabaz, but his surrogate father, Elijah Mohammed, has stripped him of his love and kicked Malcolm out of his country. What Malcolm did with the exile is legendary: he went to Mecca. He has reformulated his relationship with Islam. Ali would see such a transformation decades later.
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In May 1964, Malcolm X and Ali crossed Ghana. It’s only been three months since that night in Miami, and everything has changed. Outside the hotel, Ali ignores his ex-girlfriend and mentor. It’s sad to think that this is this pain, this waste. “Blood Brother” makes a huge loss – both personally and culturally – and profoundly tries to fill that void.